Theatre Review: The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?

Image Credit: Matt Byrne
FIFTY+SA's Film & Book Reviewer, Dave Bradley, reviews State Theatre Company production of Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?

WORDS: Dave Bradley

Director Mitchell Butel’s State Theatre Company production of Edward Albee’s play is often extremely funny although, it must be said, it does leave you wondering quite what to think. And perhaps that’s the point.

American playwright Albee (1928 – 2016) was certainly prolific, but his most famous work is undoubtedly Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (written in 1962 and most famously filmed in 1966), which was quite controversial in its day, what with nasty dinner party games like ‘Hump The Host’. However, The Goat, written by him back in 2000, is far more transgressive, and seemed to truly startle (and maybe offend?) a packed audience at the preview held on Tuesday February 14, making it a memorable Valentine’s Day outing for a fair few of the punters.

A long-married liberal (in the American sense of the term) couple, Stevie (Claudia Karvan in her first theatre role in 25 years) and Martin (Nathan Page), are shown happily preparing for a visit by their old pal Ross (Mark Saturno), a TV host hoping to interview Martin. He’s a celebrated architect about to embark on a huge project in the US Midwest, and he’s just turned 50, which is why there’s a lot of humourous banter between the two at first, even if Martin has a secret which he hints at. But Stevie thinks he’s kidding (so to speak).

When Stevie leaves, Ross tries to get his friend to talk and the terrible truth comes out: Martin is having an affair (if what’s quite the right way to put it) with a goat, and he rapturously describes how the two of them met and fell in love. Ross is amused, then horrified, and then the second act has Stevie rightly losing her mind after reading a letter from Ross explaining Martin’s dark (and apparently stinky) secret.

This phase of the play introduces Martin and Stevie’s 17 year old son Billy (Yazeed Daher), whose out-and-proudness makes Martin uneasy and, in the general hysteria, leads to some pretty shocking homophobic comments. This is also where Claudia has her greatest moments, as Stevie desperately attempts to remain calm and think things through rationally but, finally, starts smashing stuff.

The last act is the most problematic as it must find some kind of conclusion to this tale (and, really, any end wouldn’t be properly satisfying). And the confrontations between Martin, Ross and Billy are particularly harsh and foul-mouthed, and at some point stop being amusing and start to feel… disturbing? But, again, surely that’s the whole idea?

Page is strong here and Karvan is even better (and their Yank accents are pretty damn convincing), particularly given the things that they’re required to say, and all the thorny questions they loudly ask. Consider: if these people are truly left-leaning and open-minded then, ahem, does that mean that a sexual relationship with a goat is okay? Can Martin love Stevie and Sylvia at the same time? Where do taboos begin and end, and why are some less, um, taboo than others? And what the Hell will happen to a 50 year old, hugely successful and once-happily-married man when it emerges that he regularly travels to a farm to be intimate with a bloody goat?

Surely love is love… or is it?

Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

10 – 25 February 2023

Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide



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